Minister for European Affairs says MEPs should attend parliament ‘as far as possible’

Dara Murphy responds to research showing Ireland has worse voting rate of all 28 member states

Luke Ming Flanagan said that ultimately his family comes first. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Luke Ming Flanagan said that ultimately his family comes first. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

 

Minister for European Affairs Dara Murphy has said that MEPs should attend the European Parliament at all times “in so far as they possibly can,” as he responded to research from Vote Watch Europe which shows that Ireland has the worst performance of 28 EU member states in terms of voter participation.

Speaking in Brussels where he attended a meeting of foreign affairs ministers, Mr Murphy said it was important to stress that Ireland’s performance was based on an average figure, and nine of the 11 MEPs had good attendance records.

Figures from VoteWatch Europe show Luke Ming Flanagan has a 16 per cent voter participation rate in the European Parliament since being elected in May, while Brian Crowley had a 0 per cent participation rate.

Three of Ireland’s 11 MEPs – Luke Ming Flanagan, Brian Crowley and Nessa Childers - are not attending this week’s plenary session in Strasbourg. Nessa Childers is not attending due to medical reasons.

“If someone is elected in so far as they possibly can, they should be here all of the time. The dates and times of the meetings are well known in advance, and the holiday terms are pretty clear, when people are off, “ Mr Murphy said.

“They’re elected, it’s a well paid position, but we have to acknowledge that sometimes personal health issues either for themselves or others, people can’t attend,” he added.

He said that a replacement system for MEPs would be “difficult” to implement.

“I haven’t really given any thought to how that would work in practice. It would be very difficult. We don’t have it at local authority level in the Houses of the Oireachtas.”

Ireland was ranked bottom of the list of EU countries in terms of MEPs’ participation in plenary votes since the new parliament took office on July 1st, with an average voting participation rate of 73 per cent. The low ranking was mainly due to the performance of Brian Crowley and Luke Ming Flanagan.

Mr Flanagan defended his poor attendance record in the European Parliament this morning, pointing out that his wife has not been well and a new baby restricted his ability to travel to Brussels or Strasbourg.

“Since I got elected to the European Parliament, my wife hasn’t been that well. We have a newborn baby girl and it has restricted me in my ability to get out to either Strasbourg or Brussels,” Mr Flanagan told Newstalk radio.

Mr Flanagan had declined the opportunity to speak to the Irish Times on Sunday.

Mr Flanagan continued: I have been doing my damnedest from Ireland to deal with all the issues via email and telephone etc. Ultimately for me, my family comes first. I think that’s the way society should be structured anyway.”

Mr Flanagan, who is entitled to an annual gross salary of approximately €95,000 plus expenses has a voting record of 16 per cent in the European Parliament. He is also entitled to a 304 flat rate allowance per day while on official business.

A spokesman for Mr Crowley said that the Cork MEP has been confined to hospital in Cork for the past few months for treatment and has been unable to travel to Brussels or Strasbourg.

Speaking in Brussels where he is attending talks on the Common Fisheries Policy, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, a former MEP, said it was important to acknowledge that Brian Crowley was unwell.

“Brian has been in hospital for the last number of months. He’s been very unwell and I think that should be reflected in any media coverage.”

He added: “The European Parliament is very important. It’s a much more powerful institution that when I was there and so attendance is important, but I think it’s important to give the reasons why.”